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'TV news debates are very poisonous'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
August 14, 2020 11:27 IST
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'I challenge BJP spokespersons that they have no idea what their party's ideology is because they believe it is only Modi's party now.'

IMAGE: Congress Spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi seen on Aaj Tak on the issue of the Bengaluru violence shortly before he died of a heart attack.

The sudden demise of the Congress's national spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi shortly after participating in a news television debate on Wednesday, August 12, night has triggered a discussion about the nature of such debates, with several party leaders, including Ahmed Patel, saying how news debates have been reduced to a 'potentially fatal activity'.

Some Congress leaders accused Bharatiya Janata Party Spokesperson Dr Sambit Patra of using 'vile language' against Tyagi, while others demanded his arrest.

Tyagi was last seen on Aaj Tak in a debate on the Bengaluru violence, in which Dr Patra was also a participant.

Doctors at the Yashoda Hospital in Ghaziabad, where Tyagi was taken to by the family, said it was during the television debate that Tyagi suffered a heart attack and passed away soon after.

Congress Spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill wrote a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar on Thursday, August 13, asking him to enforce a strict media code of conduct to 'curb sensationalist, slanderous and toxic nature of televised media debates' in the light of Tyagi's tragic demise.

"TV debates should be about issues that affect countries and they are not doing that," Professor Gourav Vallabh, national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress and a regular talking head on news television channels, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

Rajiv Tyagi's death is shocking because he died after his participation in a TV debate. Do you feel you are under tremendous pressure while participating in TV debates?

(During) Wednesday's debate, Rajivji was in pressure for sure.

I can understand that because as a Congress party spokesperson I go on television debates.

We take this pressure during the debate all the time.

We have to control our anger all the time on TV.

On TV debates, if you see the title of the debates, they have only one agenda, as to how to divide society on any issue.

If not that, they will take up an issue which will show the ruling party, BJP, winning and the Opposition losing.

Even before the TV debates begin, the title of the debate itself will show a tilt towards the ruling party's agenda.

BJP spokespersons attack us on the personal front.

They don't stop there, but also target our families.

They humiliate our leaders, our clothes and our religion.

If I am wearing a tilak on my forehead they will comment on that too.

This is regular practice.

Once I wore a coloured jacket, then the BJP spokesperson tried to give a (communal) colour to it.

All other panelists quietly listened to all the insults that were showered on me.

When our party spokesperson's chance comes to speak, TV anchors either mute our volume or don't give us sufficient time to explain our viewpoint.

If not that, they take a break in the programme or our network fails so we disappear from the television screen.

Moreover, they pitch three spokespersons of the BJP against us.

One will be from the BJP, one from the RSS and the third person will be a BJP supporter who will be not associated either with the party or the RSS.

Moreover, the anchor always supports the BJP.

Is this the reason we got Independence?

Haven't you conveyed to the TV anchors or channel owners that they are intentionally siding with the government during debates?

Who do we talk to?

You just go by the record and check one-month-old debates on TV.

There were three important issues before the nation that had to be tackled.

The first one is COVID-19.

India will soon have 25 lakh patients.

We are breaking world records on COVID-19, but there are no television debates on this issue.

Secondly, you see the national education policy.

How many people discussed this issue on prime time debates?

This NEP will affect our coming generations'S lives, but no one is talking about it.

Thirdly, the environment policy of the Modi government which is going to affect people.

But no TV debate discusses these things.

On the contrary, you will see debates like Asli Hindu banam nakli Hindu (Real Hindu versus Fake Hindu).

Now TV channels decide who is a true Hindu!

I read in our scriptures that this can only be decided by the shankaracharya.

If these TV anchors really want to find out who is a real Hindu, why don't they call the shankaracharya and speak to him?

I too will come and let the BJP also come for such debates.

Whoever knows more about Hinduism will win.

Let us do that.

But no, they are not doing that.

I really wonder where these TV debates are going to take our country.

Why don't you boycott TV channel debates?

My point is, do the right kind of debates on TV.

Boycotting TV debates is not the solution.

We have to fight this illness and we have to cure it.

The biggest condolence we can give to Rajiv Tyagiji is that we do debates on different subjects and in a decent manner.

For this reason, our elders sacrificed to get freedom.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar gave us the Constitution of India so that we do not hurt other people.

You want to debate about religion, please do.

But call the shankaracharya to the debate, not some TV anchor who will judge these issues.

TV debates should be about issues that affect countries and they (anchors) are not doing that.

You said Congress spokespersons don't get enough time, but then in one minute you clean bowled BJP Spokesperson Sambit Patra when you asked him how many zeroes are there in a trillion and he could not reply.

I do that all the time to him.

He makes personal comments on me, but I do not get affected by it.

Every individual is different.

Some are very emotional, some are less emotional.

It all depends on person to person.

Once, there was a discussion on the Ram Charitra Manas and I countered him with questions to which he could not answer.

He has an agenda to come on TV debates to give wrong information to the people and deflect the attention of the people from the real issues facing the country.

When I ask him hard-hitting questions, he just evades giving an answer.

In a democracy one can have ideological differences, but on TV debates one sees more personal attacks. Why has the level of TV debates fallen so low?

Because their (BJP) mission is to suppress other people's voices.

The only mission they have is to spread their false narrative.

Television news debates are very poisonous.

Yesterday I was in a debate with the man whom you are talking about (Sambit Patra)..

Some people get very emotional in the debates and they get affected by it.

They feel bad.

When my rival in the debate starts attacking me personally, I understand that he has lost his case.

If I have substance in my debate, I will never comment on your religion or what you are wearing.

I will never do that because I am confident of my substance in my debate.

During debates, Patra calls Congress spokespersons 'Jaichand' and your party as a 'traitor'. How do you take it?

You feel bad and there is no doubt about it.

It is bad to cross a decency level.

I don't respond to them in his language because I have learnt from Mahatma Gandhi that one must not respond with bad words to your opponent even if he is using bad words against you.

They don't have answers, so they insult you and humiliate you.

Once, I asked can you say who was Jaichand?

No one in TV panelists had any answer.

It is because they do not read India's history or even their own party's history.

I challenge BJP spokespersons that they have no idea what their party's ideology is because they believe it is only Modi's party now.

Do you have a personal friendship with Sambit Patra off the screen?

I am neither friends nor enemies with him.

After the debate if he does a namaste, I too do namaste.

I have nothing against him.

I feel he is as much an Indian as I am.

I have no ill feeling towards him, but he has in him against me.

He wants to prove he is more Hindustani and Hindu than me.

If there is ever an exam on these things, he will come last.

Hindu religion teaches sarv dharma sambhav (All religion are equal).

Hindu religion says that one must respect all other religions.

If someone does not do that, then how can he be a Hindu?

Your party critics say the Congress is trying to score brownie points over Rajiv Tyagi's death?

I feel sad to hear such things.

Rajiv Tyagiji was a deshbhakt (patriot) and he fought his ideological battle with all honesty and with sincerity.

If you see his last debate, then you will find that he was insulted for his religion and the tilak he was wearing on his forehead while on TV.

He did not respond in anger, but spoke with decency.

This is what India is all about.

This is Mahatma Gandhi's teachings and Lord Ram and Lord Krishna's teachings.

Do you also feel Patra should be arrested for causing Rajiv Tyagi's death?

I don't know what was trending on social media, but whatever is the truth, every Indian knows.

What I felt is true, I post my video on my Twitter account.

The more you dig into social media trends you will only find there is hate, venom and nothing more.

Therefore, I would not want to comment more than this.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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